Movies, Reviews

Oscar Shorts 2015: Animated

As per usual, the animated Oscar shorts far outshone the live-action ones this year. Is it even a competition anymore? …was it ever? I guess that’s why they have separate categories. The animated shorts kick ass every time.

1. Me and My Moulton (Canada/Norway)

First up, we have the endearing tale of a young girl, her two sisters, and their struggle to reconcile their desire to be normal with their parents’ modernist architect tendencies. The Moulton of the title is a weird bike their parents buy for them, as opposed to the normal bike that they wanted. This film is full of sight gags and the kind of small idiosyncrasies that create truly memorable characters, and the bright animation style is lovely to look at. None of it really builds into anything, though. In fact, the whole narrative is disjointed, and the Moulton itself only appears in the last thirty seconds or so, making its symbolic position in the story sort of…flat. Me and My Moulton is a fluffy little film that could have greatly benefited from another round of script editing.

2. Feast (USA) (but really Disney)

Oh my god is this a cute movie. Feast chronicles the relationship between a little dog and his owner, via food. Winston starts out on the street, where his owner coaxes him over with a french fry, and then proceeds to adopt and lavishly feed him. When the owner starts dating a vegetarian, however, Winston’s little world goes suddenly green and gross. Telling the story of a dog through his relationship with food is kind of genius, and Disney executes the idea in their typically tightly story-boarded style. No shot is wasted, the beats are perfectly choreographed, and everything is cute. That said, the visual style is pretty much just Disney as usual–nothing to write home about. An enjoyable little film that delivers exactly what we’ve all come to expect from Disney.

3. The Bigger Picture (UK)

The story of The Bigger Picture–the beloved son and the son who actually does all the caretaking vying for the affection of their aging mother–is one of the most played-out tropes in British cinema, so the plot of this movie is at best unremarkable. However, it distinguishes itself by having one of the most inventive and creative animation styles I’ve ever seen. A wide array of stop-motion and different visual mediums combine in surprising ways, resulting in this gorgeous miasma of movement and color. Plus, it doesn’t shy away from absurdity, often breaking the laws of physics in a magical-realism-like-way to communicate a character’s feelings. The story is played-out, but this is not a movie you watch for the story. I’d love to see a behind-the-scenes on this one, because there is a lot of trickery going on.

4. A Single Life (Netherlands)

A simple premise, well-executed: A Single Life features a girl and a mystery record delivered to her house, with which she can move back and forth in her own personal timeline. Skip back, and she’s a child; skip ahead, and she’s a granny. Short and to the point, with tightly plotted comedic beats, this is a fun little movie well worth watching, even if the character design and animation styles are a bit meh. Plus, the physics on her boobs are just…uncomfortable. They seem to be moving independently of anything else going on in the shot, like in a video game, and it’s distracting and unnecessary.

5. The Dam Keeper (USA)

Both my favorite of the shorts and my pick for who will win the Oscar, The Dam Keeper is a gorgeous, heart-wrenching little film about a pig-boy charged with running the windmill that protects his town from “the darkness”–and the village animal-people who constantly taunt him. Pig-boy finally makes a friend when a new fox-kid comes to town, but when his friendship is betrayed he loses his motivation to keep protecting the town.

The worldbuilding in this movie is pretty vague–what is “the darkness”? Why does nobody in the town seem to know what pig-boys job is? Where did the windmill come from in the first place? Where does a hippo get off calling a pig smelly anyway?–but you don’t really question it with such gorgeous graphics all over the place. Ultimately, this is a compelling meditation on how social isolation can be more destructive than even natural disaster, couched in a cute children’s story. I loved it.

Highly Commendeds:

While last year I thought the best film was in the ‘Highly Commended’ category, this year I think they all got sorted out correctly. These last few films were definitely of a lower standard than those nominated, and most of them rely on a surprise twist ending to create interest. Still worth watching for the most part, though.

6. Sweet Cocoon (France)

This movie. Sigh. Okay, this movie is basically just an extended, possibly-sexist fat joke. Basically, a fat caterpillar can’t fit into her cocoon, and ends up requiring help from a couple of dude beetles. Once they finally manage to shove her bulky ass into the cocoon, she turns into a weirdly sexualized butterfly who is then immediately eaten by a bird. The eaten by a bird part is the surprise twist ending. I feel a little bad ruining it for you if you were planning to see this movie, because it was a little bit funny, but frankly, the rest of the movie was so poorly conceived that it doesn’t really deserve no-spoilers respect. France, your animated shorts are weird and I disapprove.

7. Footprints (USA)

Footprints follows a man awoken from slumber in the middle of the night by something shattering his window. He goes on a hunt for the creature he imagines is maliciously destroying his property, tracking it all over the place and ultimately doing a lot more damage to his property in the process. I won’t give away the twist ending because it’s pretty well executed, but know that it’s there. Ultimately, I didn’t find this film very compelling, which was at least in part because of my distaste for the kind of sketchy-jumpy animation style it utilizes. I don’t like it when a movie feels like it’s flickering the whole time I’m watching it, but maybe that’s just me. I give this film a resounding “MEH.”

8. Duet (USA)

Short, sweet, and absolutely gorgeous (if heteronormative), Duet traces the parallel lives of a boy and a girl as they grow into adults and fall in love. This one is all about the visuals; the characters are barely more than outlines (literally), and the “story” flashes by with very little to flesh it out. That said, it’s well worth drooling over, which you can do here.

9. Bus Story (Canada)

I…don’t really understand how this film won anything? Bus Story follows a girl in her first year of being a bus driver, complete with all its hardships and the absolute disillusionment of her weirdly utopian ideas about what driving a bus would be like. The kids are a lot less friendly than she expected, she crashes the bus a couple times, runs over a dog–it’s basically a disaster. But since the protagonist has almost no characterization, you don’t feel bad for her or even like her. She’s just kind of a blah person telling a blah story in a cartoon-network-reject animation style. This movie I did not like.

Critically yours,
M.M. Jordahl

“No amount of great animation will save a bad story.” -John Lasseter (keeping the same quote from last year because it’s still excellent)

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